Agents protest as MAS raises fares to Chennai

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Malaysia Airlines seems to be in the centre of yet another controversy. First there was the uproar over its proposal to the Government for a 50 percent in the domestic airfares. Now it’s its decision to raise the airfare to Chennai (Madras) by almost 25 percent. The nett economy fare (return) will increase to RM1,550 (US$408) from RM1,265 on September 15. Business class ticket now costs RM3,000. While it’s “customary” for the national carrier to review fares during the peak season October to December) to popular destinations, the increase is usually between RM100 and RM150 or in the quantum of 10-15 percent, depending on the destination. Since the announcement of the new fare, there has been protests as well as appeals from travel agents and travellers to the airline to review its move but to no avail. There is a concession though in that travellers who book their tickets before the effective date will still pay the old rates but they have to use their tickets before October 31. Small consolation, said travel agents tapping the India market and Chennai-bound travellers. The latter are especially upset as they feel MAS is not very “fair” as fares to destinations with longer flight time are much cheaper. An example, for the four-and-a-half hour Kuala Lumpur-Hong Kong flight, the fare is RM1,210. Kuala Lumpur-Chennai takes three-and-a-half hours. Travel agents are upset as they feel MAS should at least reconsider the quantum of increase. With its inflexible stand, they say the loser will be MAS as travellers have other recourse. One, to use other carriers, such as Air India and Singapore Airlines whose airfares are cheaper. Market surveys reveal that SIA charges RM1,090 for the same sector while Air India’s fare is RM1,050. (SIA is able to offer cheaper fares because it is not a signatory to the Market Development Programme of which 26 other airlines in Malaysia, including MAS, are.) As it is quite a number of travellers have opted for SIA and Air India. Most flights on these two airlines are fully booked until the end of the year. Two, frequent travellers to India could buy their tickets in that country. According to executive chairman of Mupah Travel, Haniff Ibrahim, MAS tickets in India are far cheaper than in Malaysia. A business class may cost RM2,600 compared to RM3,000 if the same ticket is purchased in Malaysia. Since India is now practising an open market policy, credit cards and foreign currency are readily accepted unlike in the past when all trading was done only in US dollars. This makes it easier for frequent travellers to purchase such tickets. The Chennai route is very popular and the daily flights on most carriers are usually full especially during the peak months of November and December. Now the controversy has attracted the attention of Culture, Arts and Tourism Dato’ Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir. He was quoted as saying he was against any fare increase as it could hurt the tourism industry. So far MAS has declined to comment on the uproar. As one agent wryly says, “There is no question of the frequent traveller not travelling to Chenai, price increase or not. It’s a question of which airline they choose to fly now. MAS will stand to lose a lot of money in that eventuality.” MAS, do you hear what they are saying?

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